Mystery man behind @Filming_Chicago explains how he does it — and why

"Chicago Fire" filming a scene on a bridge over the Chicago River last year. | Photo by Lori Rackl

It can be tough keeping track of the myriad TV series and movies filming around Chicago, but one Twitter account tries.

@Filming_Chicago has become a go-to source for folks wanting to know where “Chicago Fire” will be shooting that day, what Melissa McCarthy is doing in town, why a bunch of trailers are parked on their block and when they might be able to snap a selfie with Sophia Bush.

With more than 7,700 followers ranging from fanboys and fangirls to local traffic reporters, Filming in Chicago serves as a tip sheet, posting the day’s filming-permit locations for TV shows and movies and retweeting tidbits picked up from other tweeps who’ve spotted cameras rolling around the city and suburbs.

The account is the work of one man — a man who prefers to remain anonymous, at least for now.

“I’d rather just be in the shadows,” he told me during a recent in-person interview. “For a variety of professional reasons, I don’t publicly attach a name to the account.”

Here’s what this married suburban father who works in the city would divulge, on the record: “I’m a regular guy with a regular job. I don’t know anyone special. I just found something really interesting and decided to run with it.”

The following is an edited version of our chat:

What got you interested in finding and publicizing filming locations?

“I was living and working downtown when the first ‘Transformers’ was filming here. I liked watching the process and wanted to find out where they were filming each day. The information that was out there wasn’t always good because the sites were based in New York or somewhere that doesn’t know the city, so they might say something was on ‘300 Wacker.’ I’d find a lot of mistakes and it got me thinking I could probably do this better and it wouldn’t be a lot of work. I was correct on the first part, not the second.”

How do you find the details about the shooting locations?

“All the information is available publicly. There’s a fantastic online portal []. You can search by type of permit. If you put in ‘filming’ for the type of permit, you can see every filming permit that’s been issued in the city of Chicago. All you need to know from there is which production company is for which show. ‘Chicago Fire’ is Open 4 Business Productions. ‘Chicago P.D.’ is NBCUniversal. It’s sort of difficult to learn how to do but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy. Anyone could replicate it.”

Note: I tried poking around on the city website for about an hour and had a hard time filtering the database to get permit info for specific shows. I’m sure it’s all there. I’m also sure I don’t have the patience or inclination to learn how to find it. Much easier to just follow @Filming_Chicago.

@FilmingInChicago usually posts the next day’s permit information on Twitter the evening before. He’s the first to admit that it isn’t always 100 percent right.

“Sometimes the person who uploads them at city hall doesn’t upload them quickly and you get them a day late, but 80 percent of the time you’ll get what’s going on the next day and it’ll be accurate. The other 20 percent is, maybe there’s an error in the permit or they’ve changed something. So I also do general Twitter keyword searches to get the rest of my info from crowdsourcing. The most annoying thing to me is when someone says, ‘Do you know where “Chicago Fire” is going to be tomorrow?’ Well, yes I do. And when I post it, you’ll know too. I can’t respond to 100 people individually. And I can’t respond with where they’re going to be on Friday if it’s Tuesday. I want to try to minimize the amount of incorrect information I put out there. Posting things two or three days early is a good way to get things wrong.”

The permit info isn’t always 100 percent comprehensive, either.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is you don’t need a permit to film in Chicago. You only need a permit if you want parking spaces on a public street. If somebody is filming at Comiskey Park, they don’t need a permit. They’re going to park in the lot and you might never know they were there. But if somebody wants to film at Blackfinn or Siena Tavern and they need spots for their production equipment, then they need a permit.”

Is it time-consuming?

“It depends if something special is happening. If Mariska [Hargitay] is in town for ‘Law and Order,’ I’ll get 20 or 30 messages about it and I’ll spend a lot of time trying to find things on Twitter. If it’s a normal day, I can usually get everything done in about an hour. I go into the database, run all my searches, go on a map and check every location to make sure it looks right. If that’s good then I put it out there, usually in the evening.”

Having a bunch of lookie-loos loitering around a filming site can be a big headache for the cast and crew. Has anyone asked you to stop putting the information out there?

“I’ve never had anyone tell me to stop posting things, but if you called the locations manager for ‘Chicago Fire’ or an EP [executive producer] and said, ‘Do you mind that these locations are on the internet the night before you film?’ they’d probably say yes. It makes their job a little harder. I don’t think I understood when I started this that it would be so much of people just wanting to get a photo with someone. I’m sort of uncomfortable with the whole star-stalking part of it. That’s not why I got into this. But it’s really gratifying for people who’ve admired Sophia Bush or Mariska their whole lives to actually finally get to meet them or have a good interaction with them and to know they probably wouldn’t have done that without my account.”    



Describe your typical Twitter follower.

“It’s a young demographic, at least 50 or 60 percent female between the ages of 14 and 30. I would say about 70 percent are in the city.”

Which of your tweets spark most interest?

“By far, ‘Chicago Fire’ and ‘Chicago P.D.’ I was very surprised that no one wanted to know about ‘Empire.’ I think part of that is because ‘Empire’ isn’t filmed on location very much; it’s Chicago standing in for somewhere else [New York]. The single most often made request is: Where is Sophia Bush [Det. Erin Lindsay on ‘Chicago P.D.’]? She has so many Twitter followers and she’s such a role model for young girls.”

You put a lot of work into this. Do you make any money at it?

“I haven’t made a dime off this Twitter account or anything related to it. I’ve been thinking a lot about ways to monetize it but I’m not so sure any of them would work. I’m working on a website. I just started a Periscope account. I’d like to give tours [of filming locations]. But so far, I guess I’m doing it for the love of the game.”

What does your family think of your time-consuming, unpaid hobby?

“Sometimes my son says, ‘Why do you still have that fake account?’ Then I ask him how many Twitter followers he has. That gets him quiet.”

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